We are trying to do some wrap-up blogging before our next European trip...and this is being posted from the Business Class lounge in Boston waiting for our trip to Europe. Why it didn't get posted sooner, who knows??? We may post one more about our trip to the Puebla in March... but that may be very delayed... The following was mostly written in February... but we've been so busy planning this trip to Europe, we postponed finishing it... The Basic message: there's lots of great places to visit in Mexico!
Five days later we joined a tour to Chiapas (the southern most and poorest state in Mexico.)
We flew into Villahermosa (in the state of Tabasco) which is more or less in the elbow of Mexico that leads to the Yucatan Peninsula. We then travelled by bus to Palenque where there is a modern town and there are the impressive Mayan ruins of a city that date from 200 BC to nearly 800 AD.
|Palace & Observatory|
|Tomb of the Inscriptions|
We started by touring a museum replete with original works from the ancient site and copies of pieces now in European museums. Key ruins include:
- The Temple of Inscriptions which houses the tomb of Pakal (who ruled from 615 to 683) and Inscriptions that record approximately 180 years of the city's history.
- The Palace, used by the Mayan aristocracy for bureaucratic functions, entertainment, and ritualistic ceremonies…It was equipped with numerous large baths and saunas which were supplied with fresh water by an intricate water system.
- The Observation Tower (likely used for astronomical purposes)
Palenque town has a small but pleasant tourist district with several restaurants and hotels. We especially enjoyed our grilled fish at Feliz Huachinanago. Others enjoyed their meals at Maya Canada.
While walking around town Pat noticed an odd looking tree. The umbrella-like leaves are about 15 inches across. The bloom looks like a clump of little fingers. Our guide later revealed to us that this is a hallucinogenic. Sorry folks, we can't recall the name of the plant.
From Palenque we drove to San Cristobal by way of two impressive waterfalls.
12 miles from Palenque, the 100+ foot high Cascada Misol Ha has a path that leads behind the falls to a cave that can be explored (for an additional fee).
Further along the route is Cascadas de Agua Azul, a series of brilliantly white falls, passing over a range of brown & white rock formations into alluring aqua colored pools. Along the side of the falls is about a half mile of trail and vendors.
Along the route we passed through Tropical Rainforest and Cloud Forest before reaching the higher altitude Pine Forest that surrounds San Cristobal de las Casa (note there has been severe deforestation but there are still significant areas of pine forest). Before arriving in San Cristobal, we made one last stop at a coffee plantation.
Arriving in San Cristobal we found that we had moved from the temperate altitude of 250' in Palenque to the much chillier altitude of 7200' in San Cristobal. (Note to self: Next time do not skimp on the warm clothes just because you think you are heading further south!)
|Cathedral of San Cristobal|
|Our Guide and a very short but very Charming Mayan craftswoman|
|The fruit vendors peel oranges and end up with bunches of orange peel strings.|
We can’t speak to the average temperature and comfort in the area, we only know it was quite chilly while we were there. But apparently the Spaniards preferred the cooler, higher altitudes with San Cristobal originally being called Chiapa de los Españoles (Chiapa of the Spaniards). In fact as we explored the city, we learned how the local Mayans were relocated to nearby Chiapa del Corzo,then known as Chiapa de los Indios. It is at roughly 1000’, and far more comfortable in February, or at least this February…but more on that later.
In and around San Cristobal are several distinct Mayan groups including the Tzotzils, Tzeltals, Ch'ols and the Lacandon with each group speaking significantly different Mayan dialects. A daytrip took us to the Mayan towns of Chamula (to explore their market), and Zinacantán (noted for it’s textiles). Our timing was great as in both towns there were special religious ceremonies in progress (that were somehow tied into the Lenten period. Again, photos discouraged. Sigh.
|Live poultry for sale at the market in Chamula|
|Gorgeous embroidered bedspread for sale in Zinacantán|
|Traditional ceremonial headdress for Mayans in Zinacantán|
We also visited:
- Some Orchid Gardens (a bust in February. We saw a few begonia blooms…)
- Casa Na Bolom (House of the Jaguar), originally part of a seminary later became the home of Franz Blom and Gertrude Duby Blom. Franz was an explorer and archeologist and Gertrude was a journalist and photographer. They collected tools, crafts, archeological pieces and clothing, especially related to the Lacandon Jungle and people which are displayed at Na Bolom along with some of the Blom’s personal items.
- Sergio Castro’s collection of Mayan costumes.
|Sergio Castro and a small selection of his collection|
Dining in San Cristobal:
- 500 Noches (meals were good, nice selection of wine, we really liked the Dada 1-a blend with the bonarda grape)
- La Vina de Bacco (wine & tapas, menu is limited so good for one visit)
- Tierradentro (we really liked their pizza)
- Cocoliche (good for one meal)
|Grilled Mero fish for lunch near the dam|
Tulum is a small mayan site with a spectacular setting...It's a beautiful spot built on a seaside cliff overlooking the Caribbean, and the ruins are impressive but it’s small.
One of its most popular sites, the Temple of the Frescoes, contains a number of frescoes that represent the rain gods Chaac and Ixchel. Travelers cannot enter the building, but the frescoes are visible from a viewing area. We also recommend the Temple of the Descending God and the Kukulcán Group, which holds several smaller structures, including the Temple of the God of the Wind.
Play del Carmen is now shopping-central…but feels more like a carnival than a real shopping destination. so we checked it out, but we didn't stay long....
From Puerto Morelos we drove part way across the peninsula to Valladolid, an old Spanish city. We took a tour of the town and learned about the founding of the city and the
Caste War, an interesting period when the Yucatan attempted to become independent of Mexico. The tour ended at the Convent of San Bernardino… where we enjoyed a lightshow with the convent as a screen.
|A Nativity scene at Casa de Venados|
|A pottery jar with exquisite detail of colorful insects|
at Casa Venados
|Painting in the cupola off the courtyard of Casa Venados|
We took a busy day trip to Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve to see the flamingoes, pelicans, blue herons, and other birds. Along the way we observed several crocodiles along the shoreline. On the return to Valladolid we stopped at Ek Balam a small site under excavation where you can wander among and climb the pyramids and temples. Also residing here are a number of iguanas.
And of course, we visited Chicen Itza, discovered… restored as an inspiration to tourism and to excavating more sites in Mexico. ..... And no trip to this area would be complete without a visit to Chicen Itza. An early morning start got us to the site before the crowds. We discovered that this restoration was an inspiration to tourism and for excavating more sites in Mexico. The site is impressive from the opening pyramid, El Castillo, to the many vendors who dot the paths. Do not miss the immense ball court, the observatory and the intricate carving throughout. And a few more iguanas.
By the time we left, before noon, the site was crowded with tourists
From there we moved on to Merida, another colonial town.
On the drive to Mérida we stopped at Izamal for a look at the second largest Catholic facility (next to the Vatican). We checked into our hotel near the Santa Lucia square and Late lunch La Recova, one of several restaurants located in the square. We spent the remainder of the day wandering around the the central square.
The Mérida City Tour was a good overview of the city highlights and history. Many of the large homes now serve as event facilities, You can see and feel the European connection that has been present since the early conquest. There are private cenortes and in the town center The Fernando Castro Pacheco murals in the Palacio del Gubernador depict the local history, We ate lunch at Oliva’s Wine Bar and after a walk around center and markets we had dinner Chaya Maya.
We visited Uxmal on Friday. The site is impressive on a grand scale. The large structures spread over a significant area included the rounded Pyramid of the Magician, the very steep Great Pyramid, the immense Governor’s Palace, as well as the ‘dove cote and Turtle House. There is significant artwork on the structures that is well preserved or restored. This is one site that is worth the trip from Mérida and was not crowded even at midday like Chicen Itza, The chocolate museum near the entrance to Uxmal was also interesting. We returned to Mérida and had lunch at Apoala and later strolled around the center visiting more shops and markets.
|The "Dove Cote" or "Pigeon Loft" Complex, Uxmal|
Saturday we visited the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya,a very impressive history of the Yucatan and Maya from the meteor that formed the Yucatan through the 2500 plus years of Mayan history. The story is told in Spanish, Mayan, and sometimes English. We enjoyed another great meal at La Recova and an evening walk through the central squares.
Regarding our visit to the Yucatan, I view it as the "anti-Cancun tour". Overall we avoided the beach resorts and we found some great not-so-touristy spots. And it turns out that there is still a lot of great options for those of us not into resorts... And on our way back to San Miguel, we met up with our friends Roger & Sandy at the bus station in Mexico City where we had arranged to meet as they were enroute to our place for a week long visit.